Sometimes a costume is just a costomb - something pretty and interesting that encases something that it's best we not see. Other times a costume can bring new life and interest to a performance of an iconic work of art. We had both last night at NYCB's Gala evening where the figurative centerpiece of the evening, Symphony in C, came at the end and was preceded by new works by Peter Martins and Benjamin Millepied.
Peter Martins may have gotten it right last night. His new works have not always been received warmly - a frequent criticism is that his principal dancers deserve better. But last night, Martins presented a modest neoclassical work that put four of his talented corps members in the spotlight - literally - and introduced them to the audience most of whom probably would not otherwise be able to pick them out of corps work for their special qualities. To a contemporary score for violin, cello, and piano by Marc-André Dalbavie, Martins created Mes Oiseaux for Taylor Stanley, Lauren Lovette, Ashly Isaacs, and Claire Kretzschmar.
In this ballet, Mr. Stanley was at a crossroads of sorts - we knew this because of the crossroads lighting design on the floor, which the dancers sometimes followed and sometimes didn't. The three ladies, all costumed by Gilles Mendel in attractive short black skirts with a single colorful under layer (Lovette - purple, Isaacs - red, Kretzschmar - blue), pursued Stanley and momentarily caught him for a unique PdD. Ms. Lovette's choreography was characterized by the sensual sweep of her lovely, long lines; Ms. Isaacs' was more kinetic and conveyed a more determined individual; Ms. Kretzschmar - whose name actually has six consecutive consonants in it - was the innocent one (having just joined the corps last fall) and perhaps was the one who Stanley would have chosen in the end - had he chosen anyone. Mr. Stanley is interesting to watch for his intensity and for his use of movement to convey something other than just steps. Hardly noticeable in corps work, he really blossoms when given soloist opportunities. He and Kretzschmar, however, share the same distracting habit of sticking out their thumbs at right angles, which makes some core audience members wince.
Benjamin Millepied's Two Hearts was choreographed to a commissioned score by Nico Muhly which could have been entitled Everything but the Kitchen Sink. Just awful. It was a pretentious concoction of movie music, a splash of Glass, and somebody else's folk song. The music meandered even more than Millepied's choreography which continues to mimic the styles of Robbins and Balanchine but is without substance: somebody else's style without substance. The costumes by Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte were black and white themed with transparent short skirts for the ladies. The dancers' torsos wore white with wide black horizontal or vertical strips and a few diamond shapes on the side. They were all pleasing to the eye, and enhanced the corps' movements. The central couple, Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle, performed the same acrobatic, split-to-show-the-lady's-crotch, wrap her around, freeze and try to be dramatic nonsense that we see all too often. Note to choreographers and composers: Every creative act is not art.
Finally, and not a moment too soon, we got to Balanchine's Symphony in C with its brand new costumes by NYCB's very own Marc Happel who used quite a lot of blinding bling in his masterful designs. The Swarovski crystal elements on the ladies's tutus and tiaras were beautiful but at times created so much reflection from the lights that they were distracting. Less would have been more. Overall, however, the costumes were the hit of the night.
In last night's performance, the demi-soloists nearly carried off the ballet. Megan Le Crone with Zachary Catazaro and Gwyneth Muller with Christian Tworzyanski in the First Movement, and Lauren King with Troy Schumacher and Alina Dronova with Ralph Ippolito in the Fourth Movement were among the highlights for their dazzling technique and smiles. Yes, Ms. LeCrone has in recent performances shown us a much warmer, more giving ballerina; she seems to have realized that it is time to let go and just dance - as Ms. King and Ms Muller have known for some time now.
The corps was in a get-it-right frame of mind last night. Great work and downright beautiful to see all those white tutus lined up nearly perfectly.
The principals were a little uneven last night. Jared Angle didn't bring his pirouettes with him although he supported his partner Megan Fairchild very well. Sara Mearns may have missed too many rehearsals recently, because she was off, particularly in the finale when all the principal women danced together. Haglund doesn't think that the Second Movement suits her as well as perhaps the First Movement would. Her partner, Jonathan Stafford, had his hands full in their PdD. In the famous penche arabesque when the ballerina's nose comes close to the leg, it might be best for the partner to hold the ballerina with his right hand in such a way so that the new fluffy tutu doesn't completely invert over her body like an umbrella to fully reveal her ass. It wasn't a pretty moment last night.
The principals in the final two movements were spectacular. Ashley Bouder with Joaquin De Luz and Tiler Peck with Adrian Danchig-Waring in the Third and Fourth Movements respectively were thrillingly exact at high speed. De Luz's jumps while swinging the leg to second position in the air had enormous height - even for him!
Although there was some very fine dancing last evening, the Pump Bump Award, replete with Swarovski elements, goes to costume designer Marc Happel - one of the most important artists at NYCB.